March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. We want to make sure that there is nothing growing inside your colon that could result in harm. The sad truth is that 140,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2016 alone. 25,000 of these will be from the state of Kentucky. Colon cancer ranks fourth behind breast, lung, and prostate as the most common cancer diagnosed this year. 50,000 patients will die from the disease this year alone. Colon cancer affects males and females equally. What is so startling about these numbers is that of the 140,000 new cases that will be diagnosed, 60% will be diagnosed at an advanced stage, and therefore, much more difficult to control, must less cure. Colon cancer has a 65% five-year survival. That means that out of 100 new cases of colon cancer, 65 of the patients will be alive five years later.
There are factors that increase a person’s risk for developing colon cancer. The highest risks are in those patients that have had colon cancer previously. Heredity also plays a important role. Those patients with adenomatous polyps and chronic inflammatory bowel disease such as Chrohn’s and ulcerative colitis are more likely to develop colon cancer. Lastly, obesity, alcohol abuse, tobacco abuse, type 2 diabetes, and inactivity are associated with an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Since 60% of new cases this year will be at an advanced stage, screening is key. The most common tool for screening is a digital rectal exam to check the stool for hidden or occult blood. This should be done on everyone yearly after the age of 50. It is recommended by the American Cancer Society that patients should start getting colonscopies every decade starting at age 50. An alternative to this would be the fecal occult blood test and a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years. If the patient has an increased risk such as a family history or a personal history of colon cancer, colonoscopy should be done every five years.
With colon cancer being so prevalent in the United States, it is important to engage in colon screening. Please contact your healthcare provider for further information.